by Jonathan Rothwell

Go Superfast, Burn £8 million

If you’ve been out anywhere in public lately, or watched TV through a catch-up service with ads, chances are you’ll have seen ads for the Government’s “Go Superfast” ad campaign.

This is ostensibly a programme to increase awareness of the benefits of ‘superfast’1 broadband, just in case receiving perpetual junk mail from would-be ISPs wasn’t enough. The actual Go Superfast page seems to consist of nothing other than links to Openreach’s and Virgin Media’s postcode checkers, the Government patting itself on the back, and a link to the application form for business broadband connection vouchers.

So, effectively, we have the government producing advertisements for ISPs and their fibre broadband services. To my eye, something seems off about this. The Government does like blowing its own horn for infrastructure improvements, and that’s fine, but the majority of the beneficiaries in this case will be private companies (Openreach, Virgin, the various ISPs et al.)[^2] And besides, it’s not like everyone needs fibre broadband: people in single occupancy dwellings may do just fine on a good ADSL connection.

So one wonders why the Government is spending money advertising the availability of fibre broadband. It’s a significant sum. I made a Freedom of Information request to see exactly how much money the Government was spending on this ad campaign.

The answer?

  1. The amount of money that DCMS has spent, to date, on its “Go Superfast” advertising campaign for fibre broadband, and associated marketing materials;

As at December 31st, we have spent £3,336,613.30 on advertising spend to raise awareness of Superfast Broadband. As more people take up superfast broadband in areas that have had public subsidy, more revenue will be returned to the projects to support further broadband roll-out.

  1. The projected total spend for this campaign through to the end of this Parliament or the end of the campaign, whichever is later;

The total advertising campaign budget is £8million.

That’s right. £8 million of our money is being spent on advertising fibre broadband.

The rationale behind the campaign becomes a little more clear when you realise that the intention is to generate a return on investment in the areas where public subsidy was used to roll out fibre broadband. This isn’t necessarily abnormal. The same thing happens with other infrastructure improvements (railways, for instance—most of the fares go straight back to the government.)

However, one has to ask questions about the Government’s priorities when it comes to broadband. While around 75% of the population has access to fibre broadband, for the remaining 25%, the picture is less rosy. The Government has a miserably unambitious target of a minimum service of 2Mbps by 2016. The new garden city at Bicester has no fibre-optic connection, with some customers waiting since August for a phone line thanks to Openreach’s complacency. Every contract for rural fibre has been awarded to Openreach. There are streets where Openreach refuses to compete with Virgin Media, and vice versa. On FTTC lines, connections still regularly drop packets (or drop entirely) thanks to the flakiness of Openreach’s backhaul. Some 45,000 small businesses still claim to be on dial-up speeds. And the government was criticised, by the Public Accounts Committee, for ripping off the taxpayer during the rural broadband roll-out.

So the Government can toot its own horn all it likes, but one wonders if spending £8 million on advertising fibre broadband is wise, given the wider financial situation and the staggering disparity in broadband availability.

Of course, it could merely be a ploy to get positive images of Britain, and of the incumbent Government, in the public eye. Anyone know if there’s an election coming up?

  1. For spinPR purposes, ‘superfast’ seems to mean ‘faster than ADSL's theoretical maximum of 24Mbps (but not always.)’ In practice this usually means fibre broadband, although EE also like to refer to their LTE network as ‘superfast.’ Theoretically, anything can be ‘superfast’ since, to my knowledge, the term has no true technical definition, nor is it legally protected.